Monday, February 18, 2019

Apartheid South Africa financed Swaziland kings through secret political fund

The government of South Africa financed Swaziland’s then King Sobhuza II through a secret fund during the apartheid years.
After the king died it continued to make secret payments to his successor and present king, Mswati III. When the apartheid government fell, the South African government under President Nelson Mandela thought it worth its while to continue making the payments.

The payments to Sobhuza and Mswati came from a secret fund set up specifically to promote the policies of ‘white’ South Africa and to fund operations directed against the opponents of apartheid.

The existence of the fund and the payments to the Swazi monarchs was revealed by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The information was published in October 1998 but has gone largely unnoticed in the years since.

The mandate of the TRC was set up in 1996 after the apartheid era ended to bear witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, reparation and rehabilitation.

The TRC reported it had not received information on the specific nature of the activities undertaken by those like the Swaziland monarchs who received ‘covert funding’, nor did it investigate the actual use made of the funding. But, it added, it was clear there were funds in ‘secret bank accounts’.

The TRC said it received information about the secret funds from the reports by the Advisory Committee on Special Secret Projects, chaired by Professor Ellison Kahn (known as the Khan Committee) and the Secret Services Evaluation Committee.

The TRC reported, ‘The Auditor-General reported that a total of more than R2.75 billion was expended through the Secret Services Account between 1978 and 1994. This does not, however, constitute the full amount spent by state departments on secret and other sensitive projects.’

The TRC reported, ‘Most projects appear to be related to the establishment of front organisations or actions aimed at counteracting the activities of the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies, primarily in the sphere of information, communication, disinformation, propaganda and counter-propaganda.

It said one of the key goals of the secret projects was ‘sanctions busting’. Separately from the TRC investigation it has been revealed that in 1978 King Sobhuza’s government lobbied the United States and the United Kingdom not to impose economic sanctions on South Africa.

The TRC highlighted what was called ‘Project Swaziland.’ The entry in the TRC’s report (Vol 2, Chapter 6,  page 529) on Project Swaziland was based on information from South Africa’s Department of Foreign Affairs. The full entry in the TRC report on Project Swaziland is as follows, ‘Young King Mswati III took it for granted that, like his father, he would be furnished with the part-time services of an attorney at the expense of the South African government. Pretoria lawyer Mr Ernst Penzhorn was employed at an annual fee of around R50,000 to advise the King generally, accompany him to conferences, draft speeches for him, persuade him not to act in undesirable ways, and protect him from the machinations of undesirable characters.’

No further mention is made in the TRC report of Project Swaziland. However, the Khan Committee had previously been tasked with going through the secret funds to recommend which should be allowed to continue post-apartheid.  Khan reported on Project Swaziland, on 19 November 1991. It called it, ‘A line function par excellence. Activity endorsed.’ This recommendation that King Mswati should continue to receive secret funding was later accepted.

Minutes of the South Africa Secret Services Evaluation Committee of 8 April 1993 show the enthusiasm of South Africa’s Department of Foreign Affairs for continuing Project Swaziland. The minute reads, ‘The Department would like to fund this from the open budget, but there are problems with the need for secrecy for the two involved.’ It added department officials would ‘consider other ways of providing this assistance henceforth’.

According to a profile published in the Mail & Guardian (South Africa) in February 1998, the Pretoria lawyer Ernst Penzhorn who was employed to serve King Mswati was closely associated with one-time President of South Africa, PW Botha. The newspaper said Penzhorn’s speciality was, ‘the art of smoke and mirrors, and the negotiation of the shifting sands of international realpolitik where countries have no friends, but only interests’.

It added he was, ‘a sort of legal agent-cum-fixer extraordinaire’.

A separate report in the Mail & Guardian in March 1995 said, ‘Penzhorn’s speciality appears to be acting for South African agents captured in foreign countries while on clandestine missions.’

The payments were made to King Sobhuza until his death in 1982. The payments continued when King Mswati III succeeded him to the throne. It is not known if the payments continue to the present day.

Sobhuza is still widely revered within Swaziland, 37 years after his death. He was chosen to be king of Swaziland when he was only four months old and became the monarch after he had reached the age of 21. He died aged 83. He was said to have had 70 wives, 210 children and at least 1,000 grandchildren at the time of his death. 

In 1973, five years after Swaziland’s independence from Great Britain, King Sobhuza tore up the kingdom’s constitution and ruled as an absolute monarch. He was succeeded to the throne by King Mswati III in 1986 who continues to rule as an absolute monarch to the present day.

During the height of the apartheid years in South Africa  King Sobhuza’s Swaziland government lobbied the US and UK Governments not to support economic sanctions on South Africa, according to a confidential communication from 1978.

The then Swazi Prime Minister Maphevu Harry Dlamini said the sanctions would be ‘disastrous’ for the Swaziland economy.

The information challenges the present-day belief that King Sobuza II and his Swazi governments were stanch supporters of the struggle for freedom in South Africa during the apartheid era.

Dlamini was said to have ‘pleaded strongly’ with the US and UK not to support sanctions.

This was revealed in a confidential electronic telegram sent from the United States State Department on 7 November 1978. It was distributed to the UK, Zambia, Mozambique and France.

The electronic telegram said, ‘During 30-minute meeting in his office November 2, Prime Minister pleaded strongly with UK and US reps to urge our governments to prevent adoption of UN sanctions against South Africa, especially on oil, on ground that sanctions would be not only suicidal for Swaziland but also extremely detrimental to blacks.’

The writer of the cable, who was not named, but was likely to be the US Ambassador to Swaziland said the US and UK representatives at the meeting agreed to seek clarification of positions from their governments ‘soonest’.

The confidential message added, ‘In unprecedented move, Prime Minister Maphevu summoned British High Commissioner and me jointly to his office November 2 for urgent approach on issue of UN sanctions against South Africa. 

‘Prime Minister said that from series of telexes and telecons from Swazi UN representative Malinga, he understood that United Nations was on brink of voting on sanctions issue and that Western powers, possibly reflecting disenchantment with South Africa’s posture on Namibian election question, were leaving impression in New York that they might not repeat not veto a sanctions resolution. 

‘Although worried about effect that any kind of sanctions would have on Swaziland’s economy, Prime Minister was principally concerned about oil sanctions. 

‘Prime Minister said he did not have to remind UK and US reps in Mbabane, who saw situation first-hand, how dependent Swaziland economy is on South African economy. 

‘Oil sanctions would be “disastrous” for Swaziland. 

‘He added that one could be sure that not only Swaziland’s population, but also blacks in South Africa itself, would be the first to feel the pinch if sanctions were imposed; he gave the example of black entrepreneurs in South Africa, who he said would certainly be treated far less favorably by South African authorities when rationing began. 

‘Several times in his forceful half-hour presentation the Prime Minister talked as spokesman for blacks in all of Southern Africa and not merely for Swazis. 

‘He said sanctions would be “indirect killing of black people in Southern Africa”.

‘For Swaziland to vote for sanctions would be “suicidal.”

‘Prime Minister asked rhetorically which black leaders in South Africa itself would support sanctions. He hoped that Western policy-makers were not taking advice from “blacks who left South Africa ten to twenty years ago and who are now living comfortably in Europe and America.”

‘He downplayed any hard-line advice that might be given by front-line leaders, who continue their own economic dealings with South Africa (as Swaziland does) because there is no alternative to such cooperation; he cited Zambian railroad move as one recent example.’

Maphevu Harry Dlamini was Prime Minister of Swaziland from 31 March 1976 until his death on 25 October 1979.

The telegram was classified confidential when it was written in 1978, and was declassified in 2014. It is now publicly available through the Wikileaks’ Public Library of US Diplomacy

Richard Rooney

King Sobhuza II

King Mswati III wearing a suit beaded with diamonds at his 50th birthday celebration

See also

Swaziland King tore up Constitution in fear educated people might challenge his power, CIA report suggests

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